"Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — book club discussion and menu
I first read Americanah two summers ago and was so immersed in it that I took it everywhere I went, even though carrying the nearly 500-page hardback was practically a workout. It's a beautiful novel that crosses three continents and tackles difficult topics such as race, discrimination and infidelity in a manner that is somehow enlightening rather than whiney or lecturing. It's a tough balance to strike. Read on for some provocative discussion questions and the perfect menu for your book club's meeting about this book.
PS: David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o are going to star in the film adaptation of Americanah. Better read it before the movie comes out.
As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu — beautiful, self-assured — departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze — the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor — had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion — for their homeland and for each other — they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
"AMERICANAH" DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- First things first: What do you think of Ifemelu's blog, "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black"? Would you read it?
- Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said Americanah is about hair. Do you agree? What does hair symbolize in this novel?
- Adichie writes that Ifemelu did not know she was black until she came to America. What does this tell you about race in our country? How does your race affect how you interpreted this story?
- What did you think of Ifemelu's various relationships? Which was the healthiest? Which was the least healthy?
- As a near-destitute college student, Ifemelu allows a man to touch her in exchange for money. How does this experience affect her, even years later?
- How does Obinze's immigration story differ from Ifemelu's?
- How do the indignities and failures in Obinze's earlier life affect the way he behaves upon returning to Nigeria?
- Why does Ifemelu return home to Nigeria, and how does she adjust?
- After returning, does Ifemelu's typify the "Americanah" stereotype — the person who returns home from America, often changed and critical of the homeland?
- What do you make of Ifemelu and Obinze's love story? What hurdles did they face in their years apart, and how did they cope with them? What did you think of their reunion at the end of the novel?
My original pairing for Americanah centered on grilled peaches, which I thought represented the sweet parts of Ifemelu and Obinze's relationship, as well as the messy parts, as well as the parts that burned each of them. Here's a menu built around those peaches that your book club will enjoy eating and discussing.